Villarreal got a hard-fought win in their visit to the RCDE Stadium (0-1). Javi Calleja's side, solid and pragmatic, got the three points after beating a combative RCD Espanyol outfit thanks to a single goal from Karl Toko Ekambi early on in the game.
The Yellows started with two changes in the starting XI. Alberto Moreno returned at left-back, after returning from his injury which had kept him off the pitch since the end of August. The other chance saw Moi Gómez start in midfield for Calleja's men.
Espanyol, in Pablo Machín's first match in charge, started well and really came out the blocks at a high tempo.
The Yellow Submarine grew into the game and started to take control at the stadium in Catalonia. With 15 minutes gone, the Yellows were worrying the home defence with quick counter-attacks. In the 17th minute, Villarreal went ahead through Toko Ekambi. The Cameroonian striker was the most alert to the ball in the first real chance for the Yellows, reacting quickest after Diego López spilled a Rubén Peña cross. The Yellows' right back was impressive, bombing up the wing throughout the game.
The goal for the away side was a blow for Espanyol, who tried to step it up in attack to find the equaliser. In the 29nd minute, Sergio Asenjo stopped a dangerous low Víctor Gómez shot. Ten minutes later, Jonathan Calleri headed onto the bar from the heart of the box.
In the second half, the first real chance fell to the home team. The referee blew for a free-kick in the Yellows' box after a supposed pass back. After protests from the away side, Calleri's shot was deflected wide by Vicente Iborra's back.
With 54 minutes gone, Villarreal were close to getting their second, with Toko Ekambi sending a well-worked Gerard Moreno cross over the bar.
With time running out, Espanyol pushed forward, trying to draw the tie level. The Yellows held form and were impressive at the back. In the 84th minute, Asenjo saved the Submarine with a spectacular save from an Esteban Granero header.
Soon after that, the referee blew to the penalty spot for a non-existent Pau Torres handball. After consulting VAR, Carlos del Cerro Grande changed his mind.
In added time, Javi Ontiveros, who was the Yellows' brightest attacking spark ink the second half, came close, being denied by a great Diego López save after an exciting individual run.
The Yellows came away with three important points from their visit to the RCDE Stadium. Calleja's side have 14 points and are in the fight for the European spots.
RCD Espanyol: Diego López; Víctor Gómez (Wu Lei, m. 77), Naldo, David López, Bernardo, Pedrosa; Víctor Sánchez, Marc Roca, Sergi Darder (Granero, m. 57); Matías Vargas (Ferreyra, m. 71), Calleri.
Villarreal CF: S. Asenjo; R. Peña, R. Albiol, Pau, Alberto M. (Funes Mori, m. 92); Iborra, Anguissa, S. Cazorla (J. Ontiveros, m. 71), Moi Gómez; Toko Ekambi (Chukwueze, m. 80), Gerard.
Goals: 0-1. Min. 17: Toko Ekambi.
Árbitro: Carlos del Cerro Grande. Booked: Bernardo, Diego López (Espanyol), Iborra (Villarreal).
Incidencias: Game between RCD Espanyol and Villarreal CF corresponding to LaLiga Santander Matchday 9 at the RCDE Stadium in front of 20,653 spectators.